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Early childhood education in New Zealand

Content from pages 8–9 of Te Whāriki: Early Childhood Curriculum


Kotahi te kākano, he nui ngā hua o te rākau.

A tree comes from one seed but bears many fruit.


This whakataukī emphasises that in our commonality we are all different. In early learning we celebrate those differences while maintaining our relationship with each other.


Two tamariki looking at a book together

Almost all New Zealand children now attend an early learning service for a sustained period of time. For a significant number, their participation begins in the first year of life.

The services available are very diverse. They have a wide range of ownership and governance structures as well as different philosophies and operating models. These different philosophies and models have emerged over time in response to changing social contexts, educational aims, parental values and employment patterns. The diversity of services is a valued feature of early learning provision in New Zealand.

Early ECE services included community-based kindergartens staffed by teachers, and parent-led playcentres. These remain an important part of our educational landscape today. Over time there has been large-scale expansion of early childhood education and care throughout New Zealand, including centre-based, home-based and hospital-based services, which typically operate longer hours and accommodate wider age ranges. In addition, community-based, certificated playgroups can be found in many areas.

Early learning services often belong to wider educational networks that include local schools and kura, and they work with others who support the health and wellbeing of young children and their families in their local communities.

Parents and whānau choose from the available early learning services based on their needs and preferences. Accessibility, values and cultural fit are often key considerations. Some children attend a number of different services during their early years.

In this context Te Whāriki plays an important unifying role by providing principles for curriculum development, strands that describe valued learning, goals relating to the provision of a supportive learning environment, and learning outcomes.

The expectation is that each ECE service will use Te Whāriki as a basis for weaving with children, parents and whānau its own local curriculum of valued learning, taking into consideration also the aspirations and learning priorities of hapū, iwi and community.

Factors that may contribute to the distinctive character of this local curriculum include:

  • cultural perspectives, for example, those found in bilingual or language immersion services, such as ngā puna reo
  • the specific learning needs of individual children
  • structural differences, such as whether the service is sessional, school- or full-day
  • the age range of the children in the setting
  • environmental opportunities and constraints
  • the ethnic and cultural makeup of the community
  • organisational and philosophical emphases, such as Montessori or Steiner
  • the different resources available in urban and rural settings
  • the ways in which parents, whānau and communities are involved.

Ngā Kōhanga Reo

Kōhanga reo are licensed providers of Māori language immersion education and care services with a wider focus on whānau development.

Starting in the late 1970s as a grass roots, whānau-led movement, kōhanga reo have led the revitalisation and sustenance of te reo and tikanga Māori. The first kōhanga opened in 1982 and others soon followed. Today kōhanga are found throughout New Zealand in both rural and urban localities.

Te Whāriki a te Kōhanga Reo outlines the curriculum for mokopuna in kōhanga reo.

Pasifika services

The retention and transmission of Pasifika identities, languages and cultural values was the driver for the emergence of Pasifika ECE services, with the first opening in 1984. Language-specific guidelines and implementation advice are available for each of the main Pasifika populations. These set out processes, methodologies and approaches to be considered when working with Pasifika children, parents and ‘aiga. They include fa‘asamoa (the Samoan way), faka-Tonga (the Tongan way), faka-Tokelau (the Tokelauan way), faka-Niue (the Niue way), akano‘anga Kuki Airani (the Cook Islands way) and vaka Viti (the Fijian way).

When used in this document:

Pasifika is a term that encompasses a diverse range of peoples from the South Pacific region who live in New Zealand and continue to have family and cultural connections to Pacific Island nations, particularly Samoa, Tonga, Cook Islands, Fiji, Niue, Tokelau and Tuvalu. Pasifika may be recent migrants, long settled in New Zealand, or New Zealand-born.